Biden, South Africa’s Ramaphosa Talk Food Crisis Amid War in Ukraine

President Joe Biden and South African President Ramaphosa discussed the impact of the Ukraine crisis on commodity prices, supply chains, and food security in Africa in a phone call Friday, the White House said in a statement.

“President Biden emphasized the strength of the bilateral partnership, as well as global challenges brought on by Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine, addressing climate change, and enhancing our partnership on trade, health security, and the COVID-19 pandemic,” the White House statement added. “President Biden emphasized the need for a clear, unified international response to Russian aggression in Ukraine.

“The leaders also shared views on the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and the impact of the crisis on supply chains, commodity prices, and food security in Africa.”

Newsmax’s Eric Mack contributed to this report.

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Doctor Who Helped Discover Omicron Says She Was Pressured Not to Reveal It’s Mild


The doctor who helped discover the Omicron COVID-19 variant claimed that she was pressured by several government officials not to reveal that it was a milder strain.

Speaking to Germany’s Welt newspaper, Dr. Angelique Coetzee, who is currently the head of the South African Medical Association, said that during discussions with European officials, she was told not to say that Omicron patients presented milder symptoms than prior COVID-19 variants.

“I was told not to publicly state that it was a mild illness. I have been asked to refrain from making such statements and to say that it is a serious illness. I declined,” she told Welt in response to a question about her initial discussions about Omicron with European officials.

Coetzee did not elaborate on which officials allegedly told her to keep quiet. In the interview, Coetzee said that South African officials did not try to pressure her, claiming that later, she was criticized by authorities in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

She continued: “I am a clinician and based on the clinical picture there are no indications that we are dealing with a very serious disease. The course is mostly mild. I’m not saying you won’t get sick if you’re mild,” according to a German-to-English translation.

“The definition of mild COVID-19 disease is clear, and it is a [World Health Organization] definition: patients can be treated at home and oxygen or hospitalization is not required,” Coetzee said, adding: “A serious illness is one in which we see acute pulmonary respiratory infections: people need oxygen, maybe even artificial respiration. We saw that with Delta—but not with Omicron. So I said to people, ‘I can’t say it like that because it’s not what we’re seeing.’”

During her discussions, she recalled what she had told the other officials. “What I said at one point—because I was just tired of it—was: In South Africa, this is a mild illness, but in Europe, it is a very serious one. That’s what your politicians wanted to hear.”

In late November, Coetzee said in several interviews, including one with CNN, that the “majority of what we are presenting to primary health care practitioners are extremely mild cases, so mild to moderate … and so, these patients, it means they don’t need to be hospitalized for now.”

“We try to get the message out there to the world to say listen,” she added, “we’re not saying this is not going to be a disease going forward that’s going to cause severe disease; it will cause severe disease, but if this disease can cause to more than the majority of people mild symptoms, easily treatable at home, no need for admission, that’s a first prize.”

Since Omicron was controversially named as a “variant of concern” by WHO in November 2021, a number of studies have suggested the variant presents milder symptoms than the Delta variant. Currently, according to data from U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Omicron makes up the vast majority of current COVID-19 infections nationwide.

A study from a group of Japanese and American researchers, published in late December, found that Omicron causes less damaging effects to the lungs, throat, and nose.

The Epoch Times has contacted the European Medicines Agency for comment on Coetzee’s remarks.

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Jack Phillips is a breaking news reporter at The Epoch Times based in New York.



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Suspect Arrested in Connection With South African Parliament Fire


CAPE TOWN—A fire at the South African parliament caused extensive damage on Sunday, collapsing the roof and gutting an entire floor in one building and a man in his 50s was arrested in connection with the blaze.

The fire broke out in the early morning and authorities said the sprinkler system appeared to have been tampered with and so did not work. By afternoon, firefighters were still trying to contain the blaze in one of the several buildings that make up the parliament complex in the legislative capital, Cape Town.

A person was arrested inside parliament, Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia De Lille told reporters, adding that the case had been handed over to an elite police unit called the Hawks.

“It’s the role of the Hawks to investigate any attack on political institutions,” De Lille said.

Parliament said in a statement the suspect was a man in his 50s.

There were no reports of any injuries.

The cause of the blaze was not yet known but De Lille said that according to a report that she received, a standard maintenance fire drill had been conducted just before parliament closed for the Christmas and New Year holidays and everything including the sprinklers was working.

“What was discovered this morning is that somebody has closed one of the valves and so then there was no water to trigger that automatic sprinkler system coming on,” De Lille said, adding that CCTV footage confirmed that somebody was in the building from the early hours of the morning.

President Cyril Ramaphosa told reporters after visiting the site that parliament’s work would continue despite the blaze. He also praised firefighters for saving a “very important national asset of our government”.

Partly Contained

The parliamentary complex, some of which dates back to 1884, consists of a cluster of buildings. The National Assembly, or lower House of Parliament, is situated in what is known as the New Wing.

The upper house, or National Council of Provinces (NCOP), is located in what is called the Old Wing or Old Assembly, which is also used for committee meetings.

“The fire has been contained in the Old Wing. Firefighters are currently trying to control the fire in the New Wing, where the fire has affected the National Assembly Chamber,” parliament said in a statement.

Jean-Pierre Smith, a Cape Town mayoral committee member responsible for safety and security, said the roof of the old building had collapsed, and added the fire had gutted the third floor of the building, including office space and the gymnasium.

He also told reporters that the parliament’s fire alarm only rang when firefighters were already on site.

By afternoon smoke had partially subsided after billowing for hours from the roof and entrance of the National Assembly. But City of Cape Town fire services chief Jermaine Carelse said the fire was still active, and was now concentrated on the first and third floor.

The fire, which started just before 6 a.m., was the second at the parliament in less than a year. In March there was a blaze caused by an electrical fault.

“It is egregious that such a thing happened in the first place, there must be no question about it. Whether it was a result of security breaches, which may be apparent to some people, we don’t know,” Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly Lechesa Tsenoli said.

National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told reporters that Ramaphosa’s state of the nation address to a joint session of parliament would go ahead as planned on Feb.10 but an alternative venue would have to be used.

By Wendell Roelf

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‘Moral Compass’: Requiem for South Africa’s Archbishop Tutu

Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has been remembered at a state funeral Saturday for his Nobel Peace Prize-earning role in ending South Africa’s apartheid regime of racial oppression and for championing the rights of LGBTQ people.

“When we were in the dark, he brought light,” Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the head of the worldwide Anglican church, said in a video message shown at a requiem Mass celebrated for Tutu at St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town.

“For me to praise him is like a mouse giving tribute to an elephant,” Welby said. “South Africa has given us extraordinary examples of towering leaders of the rainbow nation with President Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Tutu …. Many Nobel winners’ lights have grown dimmer over time, but Archbishop Tutu’s has grown brighter.”

Tutu died last Sunday at age 90. His plain pine coffin, the cheapest available at his request to avoid any ostentatious displays, was the center of the service, which also featured African choirs, prayers and incense.

Tutu, who became an Anglican priest in the early 1960s, was awarded the Nobel prize in 1984 for his non-violent opposition to apartheid. He later became the first Black archbishop of Cape Town.

After South Africa achieved democracy in 1994, Mandela named Tutu to chair the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a body created to report on human rights violations that took place during apartheid.

Throughout his life, Tutu actively promoted equal rights for all people and denounced corruption and other failures he saw in South Africa’s government, led by the African National Congress party.

“Archbishop Desmond Tutu has been our moral compass and national conscience,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who delivered the funeral eulogy, said. “Even after the advent of democracy, he did not hesitate to draw attention, often harshly, to our shortcomings as leaders of the democratic state.”

Ramaphosa handed a national flag to Tutu’s widow, Leah, as she sat in a wheelchair.

The cathedral can hold 1,200 worshippers, but only 100 mourners were allowed to attend the funeral because of COVID-19 restrictions.

A few dozen people braved stormy weather to watch the service on a large screen in front of Cape Town City Hall. The municipal government building is where Tutu held hands aloft with Nelson Mandela on the day in 1990 when Mandela was released after serving 27 years in prison because of his opposition to apartheid.

Michael Nuttall, the retired bishop of Natal, delivered the sermon. Nuttall called his relationship with Tutu “an unlikely partnership at a truly critical time in the life of our country from 1989 through 1996, he as archbishop of Cape Town and I as his deputy,” With humor, he described himself as “No. 2 to Tutu.”

“Our partnership struck a chord, perhaps, in the hearts and minds of many people: a dynamic Black leader and his white deputy in the dying years of apartheid,” Nuttall continued. “And hey, presto, the heavens did not collapse. We were a foretaste, if you like, of what could be in our wayward, divided nation.”

Two of Tutu’s daughters, Mpho and Nontombi, both church ministers, participated in the service along with former Irish President Mary Robinson and Graca Machel, the widow of two African presidents, Samora Machel of Mozambique and Nelson Mandela.

The cathedral’s bells rang as Tutu’s casket was taken away after the funeral for a private cremation.

In keeping with Tutu’s commitment to the environment, his body will be “aquamated,” a process that uses water to prepare remains for final disposition. Tutu’s remains are to be interred at the cathedral where his funeral was held.

In the days before the funeral, several thousand people paid their respects to Tutu by filing by his casket in the cathedral and signing condolence books.


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Data Suggests South Africa’s Omicron Surge Ended Without Major Spike in Deaths

Public health researchers in South Africa released a study on Tuesday indicating the country may have already passed the peak of its COVID-19 omicron variant surge without a jump in hospitalizations or deaths, The Hill reported.

Researchers focused on the city of Tshwane in Gauteng, where omicron currently accounts for 95% of reported cases. During their study in Tshwane, they reviewed hospital records and compared them to prior surges.

According to their analysis, the omicron variant “spread and declined” in Tshwane “with unprecedented speed.” The surge peaked on Dec. 5, only four weeks from its beginning.

The report showed that peak hospital bed occupancy during the omicron wave was half of what was observed during the delta wave.

“The changing clinical presentation of SARS-CoV-2 infection is likely due to high levels of prior infection and vaccination coverage,” researchers wrote.

“The speed with which the omicron driven fourth wave rose, peaked, and then declined has been staggering,” Fareed Abdullah, director of the South African Medical Research Council’s AIDS and tuberculosis research, wrote on Twitter.

“Peak in four weeks and precipitous decline in another two,” he added. “This omicron wave is over in the city of Tshwane. It was a flash flood more than a wave.”

The study followed anecdotal reports from South Africa that the COVID-19 omicron variant resulted in milder cases of illness.


© 2021 Newsmax. All rights reserved.





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UPDATE 4-South African Anti-apartheid Campaigner Archbishop Tutu Dies Aged 90

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and veteran of South Africa’s struggle against white minority rule died on Sunday at the age of 90, the presidency said.

In 1984 Tutu Key dates in the life of South African cleric and activist Desmond Tutu won the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent opposition to apartheid. A decade later, he witnessed the ends of that regime and he chaired a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, set up to unearth atrocities committed during those dark days.

The outspoken Tutu was considered the nation’s conscience by both Black and white, an enduring testament to his faith and spirit of reconciliation in a divided nation.

He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the late 1990s and in recent years was hospitalized on several occasions to treat infections associated with his cancer treatment.

“The passing of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu is another chapter of bereavement in our nation’s farewell to a generation of outstanding South Africans who have bequeathed us a liberated South Africa,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said.

“Desmond Tutu was a patriot without equal.”

The presidency gave no details on the cause of death.

Tutu preached against the tyranny of the white minority but even after its end never wavered in his fight for a fairer South Africa, calling the Black political elite to account with as much feistiness as he had the white Afrikaners.

In his final years, he regretted that his dream of a “Rainbow Nation” had yet to come true.

“Ultimately, at the age of 90, he died peacefully at the Oasis Frail Care Centre in Cape Town this morning,” Dr Ramphela Mamphele, acting chairperson of the Archbishop Desmond Tutu IP Trust and Co-ordinator of the Office of the Archbishop, said in a statement on behalf of the Tutu family.

A frail-looking Tutu was seen in October being wheeled into his former parish at St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, which used to be a safe haven for anti-apartheid activists, for a special thanksgiving service marking his 90th birthday.

Dubbed “the moral compass of the nation,” his courage in defending social justice, even at great cost to himself, always shone through – and not just during apartheid. He often fell out with his erstwhile allies at the ruling African National Congress party over their failures to address the poverty and inequalities that they promised to eradicate.

Just five feet five inches (1.68 meters) tall and with an infectious giggle, Tutu helped rouse grassroots campaigns around the world that fought for an end to apartheid through economic and cultural boycotts.

Talking and traveling tirelessly throughout the 1980s, he became the face of the anti-apartheid movement abroad while many of the leaders of the rebel ANC, such as Nelson Mandela, were behind bars.

PEOPLE’S CATHEDRAL

Tributes poured in from around the world.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby hailed Tutu on Twitter, saying he “was a prophet and priest, a man of words and action” while flamboyant British billionaire Richard Branson said in a blog post: The world has lost a giant. He was a brave leader, a mischievous delight, a profound thinker, and a dear friend.”

Tutu led numerous marches and campaigns to end apartheid from St George’s front steps, which became known as the “People’s Cathedral” and a powerful symbol of democracy.

He was a long-time friend of Mandela, and the pair lived for a time on the same street in the South African township of Soweto, making Vilakazi Street the only one in the world to host two Nobel Peace Prize winners.

“His most characteristic quality is his readiness to take unpopular positions without fear,” Mandela once said of Tutu. “Such independence of mind is vital to a thriving democracy.”

At a Boxing Day service at St George’s, there were only a handful of congregants to hear the news of Tutu’s death in a brief homage by the Very Reverend Michael Weeder, who spoke from the Archbishop’s former pulpit, saying it was “once the celebrated point of command” before asking parishioners to bow their heads in a moment of silence.

“It is sad, but he was old and served his country very well and it’s a very painful loss at a time when there is a leadership crisis in the country and the world,” said Ntokozo Mjiyako, a 39-year-old lawyer taking an early morning stroll in Cape Town.


© 2021 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.



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US Considers Easing Travel Restrictions With Southern African Countries

The Biden administration is considering easing travel restrictions to Southern African countries as U.S. infection rates of the fast-spreading Omicron variant of the coronavirus rise, top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said Monday.

“We likely are going to pull back on that pretty soon because we have enough infection in our own country,” Fauci said at the National Press Club. “We’re letting in people from other countries that have as much or more infection than the Southern African countries. So likely we are going to look at that very carefully to see if we can pull back.”

The United States on Nov. 29 barred nearly all foreign nationals if they had been in one of eight southern African countries including South Africa within the past 14 days.

It was not clear when the restrictions might be lifted but travel industry officials said it could happen as soon as this week. The White House did not immediately comment.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last week started distributing free COVID-19 home test kits to international travelers at several airports. The CDC encourages – but does not mandate – international air travelers to get a new COVID-19 test upon arriving in the United States.

New rules took effect Dec. 6 requiring nearly all people flying to the United States to obtain a negative COVID-19 test within one day of travel.

The CDC last month ordered airlines to disclose passenger names and other information about those who have recently been in the eight southern African countries.


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South African COVID-19 Cases Surge Again After Brief Downward Trend


South Africa is seeing another surge of COVID-19 cases, after the number of new positive infections reported in the region had continued its downward trend despite increased testing, according to South African National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) data.

The NICD on Dec. 14 reported 23,884 new COVID-19 cases in South Africa, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 3,204,742. The figure represented a 34.9 percent positivity rate, the institute said, noting that there had been an increase of 599 hospital admissions in the past 24 hours.

Just days earlier, on Dec. 11, the NICD reported 17,154 new cases, which was nearly 2,000 down from the 19,018 new cases reported on the day before. Similarly, while the number of daily hospital admissions saw an upward trend from 374 new admissions on Dec. 8 to 507 new admissions on Dec. 10, it dropped to 184 new admissions on Dec. 11.

The abrupt downward trend last week amid the outbreak of the Omicron variant of the new coronavirus in South Africa was described by Professor Francois Balloux, director of the University College London Genetics Institute, as “one of the most mind-boggling things I’ve ever seen during my career as an infectious disease epidemiologist.”

It comes as the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Tuesday that the Omicron variant was spreading at an unprecedented rate in the region, noting however that deaths remain low at this time.

“We are cautiously optimistic that deaths and severe illness will remain low in the current wave,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa. “But slow vaccine roll-out in Africa means both will be much higher than they should be.”

The WHO noted that while hospitalizations have increased by 67 percent in South Africa in the past seven days, the bed occupancy rate for Intensive Care Units remains low at 7.5 percent, with 14 percent of the hospitalized patients receiving supplemental oxygen.

“Though the deaths also remain low, this data should be interpreted with caution as the pattern may change in the coming weeks,” it said.

“We’ve known for quite some time now that new variants like Beta, Delta or Omicron could regularly emerge to spark new outbreaks globally, but vaccine-deprived regions like Africa will be especially vulnerable,” added Moeti.

Meanwhile, a new study of real-world data from South Africa found that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has been less effective in protecting against hospitalization following the emergency of the Omicron virus variant.

According to Discovery Health, the largest private health insurance company in the country, the protection from the vaccine’s primary two-dose regimen has dropped to about 70 percent in recent weeks.

That was down from 93 percent when Delta was the dominant variant in the country, Discovery scientists said Tuesday. Discovery’s analysis has not yet been peer-reviewed.

Pfizer and BioNTech did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Omicron was first detected by South African scientists last month and genomic sequencing of past positive tests show it dates back to at least October in Nigeria.

The WHO said in a technical brief issued on Dec. 12 that the variant, which has been reported in more than 60 countries so far, poses a “very high” global risk, but further research is needed to assess its severity.

Zachary Stieber and Tammy Hung contributed to this report.

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Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist and currently a news reporter at The Epoch Times. She holds a master’s in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.



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South Africa’s Ramaphosa Has COVID-19 but Symptoms Mild, Presidency Says

South Africa’s 69-year-old President Cyril Ramaphosa tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday, though is showing only mild symptoms, the presidency said.

“The President started feeling unwell after leaving the State Memorial Service in honor of former Deputy President FW de Klerk in Cape Town earlier today,” the statement added.

At the memorial service, a mask-wearing Ramaphosa gave a eulogy to the last leader of South Africa’s white minority government, who helped negotiate an end it.

“The President, who is fully vaccinated, is in self-isolation in Cape Town and has delegated all responsibilities to Deputy President David Mabuza for the next week,” the presidency added.

In the past few days, a nationwide outbreak believed to be linked to the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus has been infecting around 20,000 people a day. South African scientists see no sign that the variant causes more severe illness. 


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No Evidence Omicron Variant Causes More Severe Illness: South Africa


No evidence has come to light yet that indicates the Omicron virus variant causes more severe illness when compared to other strains, South African officials said Friday.

South Africa scientists were the first to identify Omicron, a variant of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which causes COVID-19.

Science on Omicron’s severity “is not yet clear,” South African Health Minister Joe Paahla told reporters in a virtual briefing.

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have jumped in South Africa in recent weeks, driving fears that Omicron could cause more severe illness than earlier strains like Delta.

The country reported 22,391 new cases on Thursday, up from under 20,000 the day prior and about 8,500 a week before.

Over 430 people were admitted to hospitals with COVID-19 in 24 hours, authorities reported, more than triple those seen on Dec. 1.

But the increase in hospitalizations “may be largely due to overall big numbers of infections,” Paahla said.

He also said, citing reports from doctors in the country, that COVID-19 cases from Omicron present the same symptoms as other variants, including cough, fever, and diarrhea, though some doctors have reported unusual symptoms.

Scientists are hard at work studying the variant and will report updates in the future, officials said.

Early research on Omicron indicates it evades the protection bestowed by vaccination better than earlier strains, and may also better escape immunity from prior infection.

South Africa officials, though, say they see signs that the protection from vaccines is holding up well in terms of preventing severe disease, with many hospitalized patients being unvaccinated.

“We are seeing that this vaccine is maintaining effectiveness. It may be slightly reduced, but we are seeing effectiveness be maintained for hospital admission,” Glenda Gray, president of the South African Medical Research Council, said during the briefing.

Some scientists say Omicron has markers suggesting it transmits easier, though experts say it’s too soon to definitively say that’s the case.

“There is currently no evidence of increased reinfection risk at the population level, but preliminary analyses indicate approximately three- to eight-fold increased risk of reinfection with the Omicron variant,” the UK Health Security Agency said in a technical briefing paper (pdf) on Friday.

South Africa is planning to start rolling out boosters of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine with an eye towards making an addition Johnson & Johnson shot available soon.

Boosters are generally discouraged by the World Health Organization (WHO) due to a limited vaccine stock globally but the United Nations group recommended this week that immunocompromised populations should receive a booster, in addition to anybody who received an inactivated COVID-19 vaccine.

No deaths have been confirmed among people sickened by the Omicron variant, WHO and UK authorities say.

Most cases in the United States have been mild and many of them have already resolved.

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Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news and stories relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. He is based in Maryland.



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